Are you wondering why Viennese coffee house culture became part of the UNESCO world heritage? In this article, I will tell you why and point you to the best Viennese Coffee houses in Salzburg.
I only recommend two places because you won’t stay in Salzburg forever, and my goal with this website and with the Free Walking tour is to help you make the most out of your time.
As always, I don’t get paid by any of the places I recommend.
The history of Viennese Coffee House Culture
Vienna didn’t invent Coffee Houses. Coffee came to Europe in the 17th century with the flourishing Venetian trade. Therefore the first coffee house in Europe opened in Venice. England followed shortly after. But for Vienna, it didn’t take long to catch up either. The famous story about how coffee found its way to Vienna, however, only a Legend.
That Legend has it that when the Turks withdrew from Vienna after the second siege in 1683, they left bags of coffee behind. The truth is that an Armenian spy obtained the first and only license to run a coffee house in Vienna and import the beans from his homeland Turkey.
In the course of the 18th and 19th centuries, coffee houses evolved to what we know as Viennese coffee houses. Marble tables, newspapers, small food dishes, and cakes, as well as the tap water you automatically get with each cup, are still part of that distinct culture.
But it was not before the turn of the 19th century that these coffee houses became the artistic, cultural, and intellectual epicenter of Vienna. The author Stefan Zweig described them as a “democratic club to which admission costs the price of a cup of coffee”.
At some point, there were 600 coffee houses in Vienna. Most of them closed after the second world war because of the rise of television and more modern establishments coming up. Today, however, their revival is in full swing.
In Salzburg, these coffee houses were never as famous as in Vienna. However, they existed, and two of them still exist today. That’s what this article is about. In this article, I will tell you what to expect from traditional Austrian coffee houses and where to find them in Salzburg.
Facts about Traditional Austrian Coffee Houses
Many of the artists from the heyday of coffee houses lived in small, shared apartments. The coffee house, therefore, became their extended living room. Some of these artists even had their mail delivered to the coffee house.
These Coffee Houses became places to sit down, to write, and to read and to meet people. Still to this day, you can sit in and Austrian Coffee House for hours, sipping just one cup of coffee. The waiter would never force you to order more or leave.
At every traditional cafe, you find several daily newspapers on newspaper sticks. Back in the day, the press was another reason for intellectuals to gather at the cafes. Especially the international news was not available everywhere yet.
With every cup of coffee, you get a glass of tap water for free. But contrary to what you would expect, the point of the water wasn’t to drink it. You got the glass of water because it would have been inappropriate to put the spoon on the saucer, god forbid to lick it. An example of how much the Viennese coffee house culture is preserved.
The relationship between the waiter and a guest in an Austrian Cafe could be the topic for another article. The waiter can be called “Ober” which would mean superior. Even if that term originates from Oberkellner (head waiter), it could as well describe that waiter/guest relationship.
Forget everything you thought you know about service!
To be treated well by your waiter, you will have to obey his rule. Show some respect! If he is not happy with you, he’ll let you know. Or even if he is stressed or in a bad mood. It doesn’t have to have anything to do with you.
This leads to countless negative reviews and Asian tourists thinking the service staff is racist. They are not. The same rules apply to locals. And once you know the rules, you will learn to appreciate them. It’s more honest.
Here are my recommendations for you. And let me remind you that these are not the places for the best coffee in Salzburg. They are places to experience Austrian culture and history.
Cafe Bazar – for Viennese Coffee House Culture in Salzburg
In my opinion, there are only two options for traditional Austrian coffee houses. The ones that were already around at the bloom of the coffee house culture in Austria. Just before the first world war. Cafe Bazar would be my personal favorite and is your only choice if you want authenticity.
It’s where people still sit down to read and write or for lengthy discussions about politics and life. There are Stammgäste (regular guests) who visited Bazar for decades and have their tables reserved at a specific time every week. There are artists from the Salzburg festival and more than once I sat next to a world-famous actor.
But there are also young people, curious newspaper intellectuals and sometimes you still see people who seem to write real coffee house literature at Cafe Bazar. And there are tourists, but the locals outnumber them.
For cakes, you either have to know the names of the cake. Your waiter will be happy to tell you what’s available but the cakes in Cafe Bazar are not on the menu. Else you will have to go into the rear right corner of the room where the cakes are stored in a glass display case.
Coffee and cake are what I would recommend. Food is available but better at Austrian Restaurants.
Tomaselli is the most famous because it’s the oldest cafe in Salzburg. It’s even considered the oldest Austrian cafe. None of the Vienna coffee houses existed for such a long time. After all, Tomaselli opened in 1700 and was continually operating except for five years after the second world war.
Every tour leader talks about it when passing by with their group. In summer, Tomaselli is filled with people from all over the world. Only a certain kind of locals would go to Tomaselli for breakfast or coffee. I would recommend it if you would like to claim having visited the oldest cafe in Salzburg. A place where also Mozart used to hang out. Or if you would like to overlook the square from the balcony.
Cafe Tomaselli is, of course, expensive. You know, however, that the price at Austrian coffee houses is for the atmosphere and the experience, not for the coffee. If you want something with your coffee, order cake from the cake lady! She has her own business. You won’t get the cake from the waiter, but the cake lady carries it around. Therefore you can have a look and choose.
Austrian coffee houses are about the experience, about the atmosphere and not about good coffee, good food, or reasonable prices. They are like time machines. The reason they became part of the UNESCO world heritage is that the culture is preserved at these places.
Go for Cafe Tomaselli, for the oldest cafe in Salzburg, if that’s on your bucket list. To experience authentic Viennese Coffee House atmosphere and local Salzburg, visit Cafe Bazar. And if you want good coffee, read this article on the best Coffee in Salzburg.